Though the attendance for Chivas USA’s home match against the Columbus Crew was announced at 7,121; it is easy to believe there may have been less inside the Home Depot Center.
It is also easy to believe that the single game attendances for 2013 will not improve much at all this season. Perhaps, the new-look Goats will be able to pull in five figure crowds with ties against New York Red Bulls, Seattle Sounders or HDC rivals LA Galaxy. But barring a miraculous, improbable playoff run, Chivas USA will almost certainly have the lowest attendance for the second straight MLS season.
Of course, the club’s problems are much publicized thanks to MajorLeagueSoccerTalk and other media outlets. And for once I found myself agreeing with Alexi Lalas during Sunday night’s ESPN MLS Showcase match. He questioned the validity of a US-based team having a system of only recruiting players of Hispanic or Mexican descent. Chivas also played seven first-time MLS’ers in the starting XI for the opener against the Crew. Their roster has almost completely changed from their 2012 incarnation.
Don Garber has addressed the Goats situation before, but the club’s low attendance was a complete embarrassment for the league on opening weekend. As the cameras panned around the stadium, showing empty seat after empty seat, one could only imagine what followed – a dire match that featured a once good team that has hopelessly imploded.
At the same time, however, the scene Saturday night reinforced an ever-apparent notion – MLS made a grave mistake putting a second team in Los Angeles whose only interest was in attracting a limited group of fans. Rather than focusing on a large Hispanic community, even today the Chivas brand only targets fans of the original Mexican club, a major faux pas in marketing.
But what if MLS’s hierarchy and the Goats’ owner Jorge Vergara have already discussed the club moving cities, or even re-branding? Anything here is just conjecture, but what if we explore something a little off the beaten track. What if we explore a possible connection between Chivas USA and Major League Soccer’s aspirations for another dual team city? Again this is only conjecture, a mere theory, but one that continues to intrigue me as things spiral out of control on the West Coast.
Garber and Company have their hearts set on putting a second franchise in New York City. The chances of a New York franchise joining MLS grows with every rumor of a new team entering the US and Canada’s top-flight of soccer. Whether this franchise is awarded to the newly-restored New York Cosmos or to another ownership group, the securing of a stadium deal is only one of the major stumbling blocks preventing Garber from getting his wish. The Cosmos will soon begin play in the North American Soccer League at Hofstra University’s James Shuart Stadium. Though a stadium in Flushing area near Citi Field is what MLS currently wants, it seems the Cosmos’ ownership favors a move near Belmont Park.
Let’s see who gets their way in this disagreement. I’m banking on Garber as he does hold all the cards. Also, let’s be clear that I am personally not opposed to the Cosmos joining MLS. I am, however, cautious over whether enough people will truly care. The people who supported the Cosmos from the 60′s through the 80′s have most likely moved on.
Many fans of MLS have been opposed to a second New York team. One reason has been the Red Bulls’ inability to sellout Red Bull Arena on a consistent basis. Another is the perceived indifference of many New Yorkers in following the club at all. Even with Thierry Henry or (gasp) Rafa Marquez, the city is largely ignorant to the Red Bulls. So why does New York City need a second club if the first team has a difficulty in drawing fans? Won’t this devastate the Red Bulls even further?
Ah, but here is the caveat: Los Angeles has already proven that two teams can live in one city to a certain extent. Even though it’s a situation where the smaller franchise struggles in every area in which the larger (and more financially secure) one succeeds, Chivas USA is surviving.
This leads to the ultimate gambit, that MLS needs Chivas to remain in Los Angeles. Chivas USA leaving the HDC and the Los Angeles area would become an easy mark for fans and detractors alike to assert that two clubs cannot survive in one city. It then follows that, if the Cosmos want to be a part of the league, Garber and the league will do everything in its power to keep Chivas USA in Los Angeles.
The original Chivas de Guadalajara has a great history and so does the original Cosmos. But if Chivas USA cannot draw based on its lineage, there is every chance the Cosmos won’t be able to do it either. Just imagine if it’s a brand new team with no existing tradition or heritage. Moving Chivas before the second NY team opens play will leave the league open for criticism it doesn’t want.
Despite the league’s worst attendance last season and a poor product in recent memory, in my estimation nothing may change for some years to come at Chivas USA. The league is desperate for that second New York team, but just as Chivas is failing on and off the field, this situation looks damning for the future of a second New York team. Even more so, it’s looking bad on the league. Again, this is only an idea of what MLS may be thinking. At the very least, it puts the idea forward – once again – that one city cannot support two MLS teams in this era.